If You’re Overweight or Smoke, It’s Going to Cost You

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The Affordable Care Act allows employers to penalize people who don't participate in voluntary wellness programs or meet certain fitness goals.

Employers say we aren’t pulling our own weight on health care costs, so we need to lose a few pounds. And quit smoking already.

They’ve got ways to make us do it, Reuters says — since offering free screenings, discounted gym memberships and gift cards apparently didn’t work.

“Some will even force employees to meet weight goals, quit smoking and provide very personal information or pay up to thousands more annually for healthcare,” Reuters says. Nearly 40 percent of large American companies will raise premiums or deductibles for employees who don’t meet its goals. That’s double the number who said in 2011 they would do so, and by 2015 it may be up to two-thirds of large employers.

Companies can require employees to participate in wellness programs or achieve and maintain a certain body mass index to receive full benefits, Reuters says. Smokers may get hit with monthly fees. Proctor & Gamble plans to charge smoking employees $25 per month next year until they make it through a company-paid cessation program.

And it’s not just private employers. Wisconsin and Washington State plan to charge smoking employees hundreds more per year, Reuters says.

Is it fair? Even those kinds of charges don’t make up the difference employers pay, research suggests. “A recent Ohio State University study found that businesses pay nearly $6,000 more annually per employee who smokes compared with a nonsmoker,” Reuters says. Is it legal? Yes. It’s one of the less famous parts of Obamacare.

“Under Obama’s Affordable Care Act, companies can offer a reward of up to 30 percent of healthcare costs paid by the employee to those who complete voluntary programs like smoking cessation, a risk assessment or biometric tests like waist measurement,” Reuters says. “Courts so far have shown little resistance to such programs.”

Is your employer setting wellness goals or other restrictions on your health benefits? Comment below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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